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Beard Awards: Kahan Ties for Best Chef, Izard Also Honored

By Janet Rausa Fuller | May 6, 2013 10:44pm | Updated on May 7, 2013 9:11am
 Paul Kahan tied for the Most Outstanding Chef; Stephanie Izard won best in the Great Lakes and Aviary was the best bar.
2013 James Beard Awards
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Blackbird chef Paul Kahan is the best chef in America — along with David Chang of New York City.

Kahan and Chang both won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef Monday night in New York, a rare tie that's only happened twice before in that category.

The awards, named for late food writer James Beard and often called the Oscars of the restaurant industry, are the pinnacle for food folks. The ceremony was streamed live on the James Beard Foundation's website.

Chang, of the Momofuku mini-empire, spoke first to accept the final award of the night, calling Kahan "one of my heroes and my idols."

"What Donnie [Madia, Kahan's partner] and Paul do in Chicago is what we try and aspire to do in New York," Chang said.

A bowtie-clad Kahan dished the love right back.

"You can't beat Chang, but a tie's OK," Kahan said. He went on to thank his wife, Mary; Madia ("We fight like brothers, but I really think it makes what we do special"), and the chefs in charge of his diverse family of restaurants, which include the fine-dining West Loop spot Blackbird, bustling wine bar Avec and the taco and whiskey hipster hangout Big Star in Wicker Park.

Another big Chicago winner Monday was Stephanie Izard of the perpetually busy Girl & the Goat and Little Goat Diner in the West Loop, who snagged her first Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes.

Izard, who shot to fame as the first female winner of Bravo's "Top Chef," gave props to her three fellow Chicago nominees — Dave Beran of Next, Paul Virant of Vie and Perennial Virant and Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia — for "making Chicago such a bad ass city to be in."

The other hometown winner was the Aviary, which took home the award for Outstanding Bar Program. The boundary-pushing cocktail bar from chef Grant Achatz and partner Nick Kokonas sits right next to Next on West Fulton Street, which last year won the Beard for Best New Restaurant.

"We have the best job in the world. We make cocktails for people and take the guest experience to another level," said Next's beverage director Charles Joly.

The foundation's journalism award ceremony was held Friday in New York. The Chicago Reader's Mike Sula and WBEZ's Nina Barrett both won. Sula won for his story, "Chicken of the Trees," about the urban squirrel, and Barrett for her series, "Fear of Frying."